Airlines Racing to Fill Talent Pipeline of Pilots

As anyone who’s been bumped from a flight knows all too well, airlines are having little difficulty filling their passenger seats these days. It’s the seats upfront–in the cockpit–that are a little more problematic. An estimate by the Boeing Co. finds that airlines will need to recruit 635,000 pilots over the next two decades as massive numbers of pilots retire, the Wall Street Journal reports, even as the industry confronts one of the most-severe pilot shortages ever right now. The dearth of pilots has forced airlines to cancel flights because there was no one available to fly them, the WSJ reports. The shortage has pummeled regional airlines especially hard, where the pay can be significantly lower for pilots than at the major carriers.

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Airlines are coming up with creative ways to address the shortage. Delta Air Lines is reaching out to its flight attendants, ticket agents and other employees to see if they’re interested in becoming pilots, CNBC reports. The airline, which estimates it will need to hire 8,000 pilots over the next decade, will pay for their flight school while they take an unpaid leave of absence for pilot training (they’ll be able to retain their employee benefits during their leave in return for paying a share of the costs). Successful graduates will then be offered a job at one of Delta’s regional carriers and be eligible for a pilot job at the main carrier after 42 months. Current Delta pilots will serve as mentors to the employee-trainees, the company said. Delta is also working with high schools and universities to get students interested in pilot careers. Other airlines are taking similar steps to bolster the talent pipeline, with American Airlines launching the American Airlines Cadet Academy for students interested in flight careers.

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Airlines such as Delta are also reaching out to under-represented groups as they cast a wider net for talent. The airline is working with professional associations such the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Women in Aviation International, the National Intercollegiate Flying Association and the National Gay Pilots Association to encourage students through high school age to pursue a career in aviation, CNBC reports.

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.

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